2019 was filled with releases and I feel like I played quite a lot of them. However, in making this list, it was very difficult to narrow down where a lot of them should place. My favorite 4 to 10 games of the year could all really be swapped around any given day. But after much hard thought, I was able to round out the list with the two games that left the largest impact on me. Starting with:
5. Days Gone
Despite the handful of bugs and glitches I experienced in zombie-filled Oregon, I kept coming back to Days Gone. The story has unconventional pacing that made it feel more like several seasons of a TV show rather than an elongated movie like most game plots, and I loved that. It was great to slowly get to know everyone in this world and see relationships rise and fall and twist throughout. It might not always be pulled off expertly, but I was completely hooked and always wanted to see how it ended. It didn’t hurt that the open world gameplay loop felt like The Last of Us with more crafting and weapons. Plus, finally being equipped enough to take down a hoard was such an incredible and earned feeling. It’s really unlike anything else in gaming and I won’t soon forget that level of intense panic followed by joy.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Besides the visual style, which is stunningly beautiful, Link’s Awakening is almost 100% the same game it was in 1993 and that’s exactly how it should be. Exploring Koholint Island reminded me how much I love 2d Zelda games; especially in how they reveal new features and map secrets. Seeing it all again was nostalgic and fresh and completely worth revisiting. The dungeons remain a high point where puzzles are consistently fun to solve and span the dungeon itself. Solutions can be about using the new tool to accomplish the goal, but it’s more often related to figuring out how to get all the keys. It’s a subtle change but one that makes it felt much more open-ended than recent Zelda dungeons. Honestly, this just might be the best Zelda game on Switch.
3. Death Stranding
As a Metal Gear Solid fan, I was left wanting more from Death Stranding. The plot, while well-acted, didn’t wow me much overall. Why it’s on the list is purely for the rest of the game: UPS Simulator Apocalypse Edition. I found setting my loadout and carrying (or driving) items from place to place tremendously satisfying. Building structures for myself and others along the way created a world I felt I had tamed. The bridge I put over the crevasse leading to the Junk Dealer. That shelter I placed in the middle of a rainstorm. The network of ziplines I spent hours on to be able to easily reach anyone in that harsh mountainous environment. While I was let down by the story’s conclusion, the 15 or so hours I spent playing the game afterward on the hunt for the platinum trophy reconnected me with what I loved about it. I was sad to see it go when I had no more facilities to level up or collectibles to find.
Death Stranding is an incredibly unique game in terms of its premise, and it presents it all with stunning ability. The narrative feeds the gameplay and elevates it. The gameplay is never too much of a struggle, but you must remain constantly vigilant with your task at hand. It’s pleasing and relaxing to play but never aimless and for that, it deserves high praise.
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2. Resident Evil 2: Remake
Honestly, every second of this game feels like a dream. It’s the perfect revitalization and adaptation of the original, while simultaneously modernizing it all. The police station’s relative safety giving way to a tension filled pursuit by Mr. X will be remembered by many for years to come.
Resident Evil 2 is a hard game for me to discuss because it’s almost everything I could have ever wanted from a RE game. The puzzles, item management, the story and characters, the combat. It’s perfect. There’s nothing else quite like the quiet walk down an unexplored hallway in RE2. This is a game were two zombies in a room can seem daunting. And in a world where most games make you play as some quasi-god or super-soldier, I prefer the much more grounded, almost mundane, approach. I think the only bad thing I can say about this game is that I wanted more. Like a ravenous zombie going from corpse to corpse feeding that insatiable desire, so too did I want more brains. I mean RE2. Definitely not brains. Nope.
Jedi: Fallen Order for somehow being the best Star Wars narrative we got this year.
Onimusha: Warlords for utterly blowing me away with its action-game meets Resident Evil set up. Seriously, if it hadn’t been such a bare-bones remaster, it would have been in the top 5.
The Sinking City for taking any sort of narrative expectations and warping them in delightfully eldritch-y ways.
A Plague Tale: Innocence for telling a beautiful tale filled with believable characters I won’t soon forget.
1. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
When I first started Sekiro, I was conflicted. It was the same Souls style I loved but the combat didn’t click, and other elements seemed off or even unfair. I pressed on and struggled to unlearn 10 years of Dark Souls muscle memory, and when I did, it was truly magical. The entirety of the combat is based upon blocking at the perfect moment and since everything was designed around that idea, they’ve created the best sword duel game ever.
By the end of Sekiro, you’re playing at a level that isn’t even comparable to how you started. And its biggest success is that you’re stronger not because of epic armor, the +5 ultima sword, or a maxed out skill tree. You’re better because you put in the effort, you learned how to read enemy movements, you know when to block, how to avoid attacks, and capitalize on the openings. This tremendous level of personal growth is unlike anything I’ve experienced in any game. You finish Sekiro because of you, not because you summoned in someone to help or grinded out X, Y, or Z, but because you trained throughout the journey. It’s the end of The Matrix when Neo fully understands his powers and you get to personally experience that.
No other game had ever made me feel that, not only in 2019, but possibly ever. I got all the achievements in Sekiro at somewhere around 60-65 hours of playtime, but Steam currently says I have 101 hours in the game. I just can’t get enough.
That’s a wrap on 2019, a totally solid year for games but one that most people agree is missing something. 2020 looks to fill that void in spades and with brand new consoles to boot. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get to even half the big releases this year, but I’m up for the challenge!